By Anya Shukla
Lash O’Cain is drawn to artwork that questions contemporary culture. The 20-year-old press operator is primarily a writer—she creates poetry, songs, short stories, and screenplays— and plans to pursue film at college in the future. Yet despite the diversity of disciplines, O’Cain’s pieces have a clear focus on our shared humanity, her personal identity, and the ways in which the two intersect.
Q: You work in many distinct art forms. How and when did you first get interested in art in general?
A: It just started as being a kid. I feel like all kids are just naturally creative when they're young. Even though I didn't grow up in a spot where creativity was purposefully fostered or was even enthusiastically encouraged, I found that I had things I wanted to say, and I never really thought twice about making it my own. Those things just became art.
Q: What things do you want to say?
A: I want to acknowledge all the rarities of being human—the rarities that we to this day refuse to acknowledge in ourselves and others.
For a long time, I was only seeing my world as good or bad: either praising or blaming myself. That was comfortable. I realized that I had to start being honest and taking responsibility for the insight I already had. Now, a lot of my art comes from and explores the truth: the ugly truth and the beauty of truth as well.
Q: Was there ever a time when your race impacted your artistic experience?
A: As a younger teen, I felt like my race was always getting in the way. At the time, I was just doing spoken word, and that space was only just starting to acknowledge Black women or queer women or Black queer women.
Diversity can be such a pretty word to people who want to make themselves and their companies look nice. But what really matters when it comes to diversity is having resources and support in place for the people who make the space diverse—the people of color. It’s always a struggle when you're walking into spaces that are dominated by people that don’t look like you, people who don’t encourage your experience as much as they applaud their own.
Q: How did you deal with that lack of diversity in spoken word?
A: Honestly, for a long time, I didn't. That's why I started branching out into different art forms.
When I finally did come to the realization that I wasn't comfortable in certain artistic spaces, I realized that I can't be angry at these people who don't know me because they don't know me; they don't know people who look like me. All I can do is protect my energy, recognize the power that I do have, and be willing to say things that people aren't willing to say.
Q: Could you expand on that? What power do you have and how do you use that power in artistic spaces?
A: People say that when you're Black, everything that you do is political; at times I agree with that, at times I don’t. But when I perform, what I do is political because no one else can get up on the stage and tell my story with the same depth or emotion. That’s my power. My performances give people insight; even if people can’t relate directly to my experience about a racial interaction, they still have just learned something.
Q: What advice do you have for teen artists of color?
A: One, don't feel the need to share your art with everyone. Some of your art is meant to be recognized simply by yourself so you can create better things in the future. And two, when you're caught up in being comfortable, that's the perfect time to do something that you hate. That's how you grow as an artist.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.